“Sucking on my titties like you wanted me/ Calling me, all the time like Blondie/ Check out my Chrissie be-Hynde/ It’s fine, all of the time.”
These were the first words many heard from Peaches, on her 2000 single “Fuck the Pain Away.” Fifteen years later, it seems like a relatively tame opening statement from the transgressive cult provocateur born Merrill Nisker. Though her initial rise was tied to the electroclash movement that reached a breaking point in the early ‘00s, Peaches has only grown more ambitious in her projects in the last several years: a hotly contested one-woman production of Jesus Christ Superstar in which she’s crucified on a penis cross, a transsexual coming-of-age rock opera-turned-documentary built around the lore that surrounds her (Peaches Does Herself), and a personal invitation from Yoko Ono to recreate her most revolutionary work of performance art, Cut Piece .
“It sounds so basic — ‘cut the clothes off the person on stage’ — but it’s a 50-year-old piece that’s still relevant and will be relevant in 50 more years,” Peaches says of Cut Piece, which she performed at Ono’s 2013 Meltdown Festival. “I couldn’t believe what people were yelling: ‘Cut her hair!’, ‘I saw her boobs!’, ‘Oh my god, that outfit’s so nice!’ There was gasping, laughing, shaking, crying. People had performances ready, they wanted me to do stuff to them, they wanted to do stuff to me. I just stood still, which is something I never do — I’m always in everyone’s face. I’m also never completely nude in front of people, so after 90 minutes of that, Yoko Ono put a ring on my finger, kissed my hand, and I couldn’t help but start crying. Then she said to me, ‘That’s the most rock ‘n’ roll thing you’ve ever done, that’s louder than any music show you could ever put on.'”
All this and more are on display in What Else Is In The Teaches of Peaches , a new photo book that serves as a look behind the scenes that’s as wildly uncensored as her work itself. (Click through for a gallery of exclusive photos from the book.)
Berlin-based photographer Holger Talinski started documenting Peaches’ I Feel Cream Tour in 2009 on a trial basis and quickly became engrained in her creative family. For five years, Holger documented Peaches in every setting imaginable (and many not): on the toilet surrounded by naked Barbies (as seen on the book’s cover), vomiting blood all over her audiences (as she is known to do), palling around with famous fans like Michael Stipe and Ellen Page (who contribute essays to the book about how Peaches altered their worldviews), and signing fans’ privates parts.
“There could be a whole book of signing boobs and dicks and asses, I’m telling you,” she says. “One time I signed a penis that was just so tattooed and it was like, ‘What’s the difference?’ And he goes, ‘I’ll tattoo that on there too.’”
In Peaches’ eyes, the most shocking moment documented in the book is its most normal: a photo of her hanging out with her parents. “I think that’s the one that people just go: ‘Wow, she’s still someone’s daughter.'”
Initially Talinski wanted to forego the obvious live photos, despite the setting being one where Peaches’ performance art and music come together in wild, hilarious, sex-driven, laser-filled freak shows. He wanted to capture Peaches “coming off stage, wearing the costumes but sweaty, sleeping, crying.” But her live productions are so visually driven that it was inevitable that some of those photos would make their way into the book, serving as a juxtaposition to the private moments Talinski captures. It’s an intimacy Peaches doesn’t exactly mind, given her own penchant for self archiving.
“I used to carry a shitty camcorder around,” she says. “I have like 8,000 hours of self documentation plus three failed documentaries about me. I was just so excited that this was happening to me — that anything was happening to me.”
As for what’s happening to Peaches next: she’ll release a new album, RUB, this September.
“It’s classic me 2.0,” she says. “The bass that I always wanted is now available. The album has songs like ‘Dick in the Air,’ ‘Vaginoplasty,’ and ‘Dumb Fuck.’ They’re funny but, you know, they have a point.”
Plastic Ono Band & Peaches, Meltdown Festival, London, June 14, 2013. Photo by Holger Talinski, from “What Else Is In the Teaches of Peaches”
“I don’t even know why she picked me to perform with her,” Peaches says of Ono. “On her 80th birthday, she decided to come to Berlin and I was the only one who performed in the Plastic Ono Band. I thought she would have like all the Berliners, at least like Nina Hagen. It was just me! She was like, ‘Pick your favorite Yoko Ono song and let’s do it.’ I named ‘I’m a Witch.'”
“Peaches Christ Superstar,” HAU Theater, Berlin, June 1, 2010. Photo by Holger Talinski, from “What Else Is In the Teaches of Peaches”
“Peaches Christ Superstar,” HAU Theater, Berlin, March 23, 2010. Photo by Holger Talinski, from “What Else Is In the Teaches of Peaches”
Peaches with Pussy Riot’s Serafima and Schumacher, London, June 2013. Photo by Holger Talinski, from “What Else Is In the Teaches of Peaches”
The Masquerade, Atlanta, June 15, 2009. Photo by Holger Talinski, from “What Else Is In the Teaches of Peaches”
Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, June 19, 2009. Photo by Holger Talinski, from “What Else Is In the Teaches of Peaches”
La Cigale, Paris, January 23, 2009. Photo by Holger Talinski, from “What Else Is In the Teaches of Peaches”
Astra Kulturhaus, Berlin, December 16, 2009. Photo by Holger Talinski, from “What Else Is In the Teaches of Peaches”
“There are parts of the show where you can’t take a picture because you have to be holding me up! I’m literally walking on people and they’re trying to take a picture. I’m trying to kicking the phone out of their hand, and I’m like, ‘You need to just put the phone away and help me or else the show is over.’”
“Peaches Does Herself,” HAU Theater (rehearsal), Berlin, October 2010. Photo by Holger Talinski, from “What Else Is In the Teaches of Peaches”